Millions of immigrants come to the U.S. every year in search of new opportunities. An option for many people seeking a green card and permanent residence in the United States is through family preference. So, what does “family preference” mean, and how does it work?
What Is Family Preference?
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to become residents themselves. If you are married to a citizen or permanent resident, your spouse can sponsor you for a green card. Keep in mind that there are significant green card backlogs, and the application process is very complicated.
U.S. citizens can sponsor the following immediate relatives:
- Unmarried children under 21 years
- Parents if the applicant is under 21
- Orphan children adopted abroad or in the U.S.
There is no limit on the number of immediate relatives who can emigrate, and as long as they immigrate legally, they can live in and work in the U.S. with their loved ones.
The Application Process
The USCIS allows immigrants already present in the United States to apply for lawful permanent resident status based on a family preference category through adjustment of status. This means that the immigrant already has an immigration status within the U.S., like a work or study visa. They can pursue permanent residence by completing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
Immigrants qualify for a green card through family preference as long as they:
- Pass inspection by border patrol or immigration agents
- Are physically present in the United States when they file Form I-485
- Are eligible to receive an immigrant visa
- Are related to the family member who files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
- Are admissible to the United States
- Merit favorable action from the USCIS
For those applying outside the U.S., Form I-485 and other documents will need to be filed at the embassy or consulate in your country. This is a process called consular processing.
Family Preference Immigration Visas
Distant relatives can also benefit from a relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. The government limits the number of distant family members who can qualify for a family preference green card.
The USCIS categorizes relatives why may be eligible for a green card as follows:
- Category Family 1: Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 and their minor children
- Category Family 2: The spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of lawful permanent residents
- Category Family 3: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses, and minor children
- Category Family 4: Brothers and sisters of U.S. Citizens age 21 and over, their spouses, and minor children
Those that fall into these categories can pursue a family preference green card after their citizen or permanent resident relative sponsors them.
Conditional Permanent Residence for Spouses of U.S. Citizens
Another family preference category is for spouses of U.S. citizens who have been married for two years or less. In these cases, the immigrant spouse can receive a conditional green card. This means that they have conditional status until the temporary green card expires.
The immigrant spouse can apply for a permanent green card to maintain their status in the United States. However, if you choose to apply for a green card, you must submit your application 90 days before your conditional green card expiration.
Family Preference: Keeping Families Together
The family preference category allows immigrants to live and work with their loved ones in the United States and keeps families together. The application process is tedious, however, so you must consult a qualified legal professional.